header math Language Arts Social Studies Science test prep sign up

Instruction 5-3

Origins of India | Buddhism in India | Indian Empires


Indian Empires
CCSTD History Grade 6 6.5.6-6.5.7

As we told you in our last Instruction, a king named Chandragupta Maurya united much of northern India in the 3rd century BC. He did everything from building beautiful cities to establishing an efficient postal system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandragupta_Maurya ). The Mauryan Empire was the first great Indian empire.

Under Chandragupta's son, Bindusara, it spread until it covered almost the entire Indian subcontinent (modern India). The greatest Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka the Great (286-231 BC), extended it even further.

After Ashoka's death, the great Indian Empire began to fall apart.


The Gupta Dynasty /(The "Golden Age of India")

In the north, the Gupta Dynasty followed the Mauryan Empire. Candra Gupta 1 founded this dynasty. It flourished until the middle of the 6th century AD.

The Gupta Dynasty existed at about the same time as the Roman Empire. It is known for its art and learning. Some consider it "the Golden Age of India."

People had a great deal of religious and personal freedom. They could choose their own occupations. Hinduism was the official state religion, but others (like Buddhism) were also welcome.

There were guesthouses for travelers and free medical care for the poor. Criminals were never executed they were fined for their crimes instead. Writers, artists, and scholars were rewarded for outstanding work. People came from as far away as China to study at Gupta universities.

Many breakthroughs were made in science. Gupta scientists believed that the Sun was round. They were the first to figure out that the Solar year had 365 days!  They also gave us the numbering system that we use today. It consists of the zero, the decimal point and the numbers from 1 to 9. These numbers have come to be called Arabic Numbers.


Daily Life in Gupta Villages

Although life was peaceful, security was still a concern.

Local military squads protected villages from bandits. Each squad consisted of one elephant, one chariot, three armored cavalrymen, and five foot soldiers. In time of war, all the village squads got together to form the Royal Army.

Houses were mostly one-room huts made of wood or bamboo. They had thatched roofs. Streets between houses were narrow and twisted. Stalls for selling things lined both sides of the street.

Craftsmen worked with iron and copper. Their ironwork was outstanding.  Iron statues from this period show almost no rust.

Many people worked on public works projects. As in ancient Egypt, they were paid for their work.

Children who went to school lived at the school (ashram). They studied math, science, engineering, literature, art, music, and religion.

Women were often allowed to choose their husbands. But they had to select from a group of suitors picked out by their parents.

Wheat was the main crop. Cows were kept for milk.

After Hindu reforms and the coming of Buddhism, more than half the population of India became strict vegetarians. This means they ate no animal or fish meat.

People in Gupta times ate vegetables, cereals, fruits and breads. They drank milk. For fun, they practiced martial arts, wrestling, and fencing.

They invented many of the games we play today including cardplaying, polo and chess.


The Southern Kingdoms

Kingdoms rose and fell in the northern part of ancient India.

But the south remained fairly calm. It was also prosperous. This prosperity came from trade with Egypt, Rome and Southeast Asia.

Two of the greatest southern dynasties were the Chalukyas and the Pallavas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_India ).

The Chalukyas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalukya ) ruled south central India and the Pallavas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallava) ruled the south. The Pallavas pioneered the exuberant temple architecture we associate with southern India.

In 850 AD, a group called the Cholas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chola) rose to power. They extended their empire beyond southern India. The Chola Empire included Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and parts of the Malay Peninsula.



In about 1000 AD the first Muslims, under Mahmud of Ghazni (http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/Mughals/mahmud_mughals.html) invaded India. Other raiding parties followed.

In 1192, Muslims arrived in force. Mohammed of Ghori took Ajmer (in the northwest). The next year his general, Qutb-ud-din Aibah, captured more territory.

Following Mohammed Ghori's death, Qutb-ud-din Aibah set up the Delhi Sultanate. This led to many centuries of rule by sultans from Turkey and Afghanistan.


The Great Muhgals

The Mughal Empire was most successful Islamic empire in India (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_India#The_Mughal_era). Its founder was named Babur.

Under the reign of Babur's grandson, Akbar the Great (1562 - 1605 AD), Islamic culture in India reached its peak. Tolerance and harmony reigned. All faiths were welcome. Akbar himself married a Hindu princess.

Material culture reached new heights under Akbar's grandson, Shah Jehan.

Shah Jehan was a great builder and patron of the arts. When his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died in 1631, he built the famous Taj Mahal as her shrine. Many people consider it the most beautiful building in the world.

For a virtual tour of the magnificent Taj Mahal, click here: http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Taj_Mahal.html.

The Marathas, a fighting force commanded by a legendary leader named Shivaji, harassed the last Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.

Shivaji was a tiny man who could have easily been overlooked. But he was cunning beyond belief. So the Marathas came to control much of what had been the Mughal Empire.

They lost it to India's final imperial power, Great Britain.


The Europeans

In the 17th century, all the world's great seafaring nations established trading posts along the coasts of India. These seafarers included the Portuguese, the French, the British, the Danish, and the Dutch. They were after spices. Spices were used to preserve food and to make it palatable, since refrigeration hadn't been invented yet.

The Europeans fought among themselves for the many ports and riches in India. Britain eventually won.


From "British Raj" to Independence

As we said, the ultimate winner was Britain. Or, to be more accurate, the British East India Company.

Originally "British India" was a commercial venture. It provided cheap raw materials for the Industrial Revolution. It was also a captive market for British manufactured goods. But the line between commerce and politics blurred.

In 1858, the rule of the British East India Company was transferred to the British Crown.  Queen Victoria of England now became Empress of India as well.

India was often referred to as "the jewel in Britain's Crown."

The period from 1858 until 1947, when India achieved its independence, is called "the British Raj." This is an informal way of referring to the period of British rule. The word Raj comes from rajah, the Aryan (ancient Indian) word for ruler, which we learned about in our first Instruction.



Independence officially came on August 15,1947.

One of the greatest leaders of the independence movement was Mohandas K.Gandhi. His campaign of nonviolence and "non-cooperation" with Britain attracted millions of followers.

There is an extraordinary movie about his life. It is simply called Ghandi. Actor Ben Kingsley won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ghandi.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was India's first Prime Minister. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the Muslim leader at the time.

During the independence process, India was divided ("partitioned") into separate countries.

These countries were India, which was primarily Hindu, and East and West Pakistan, which were primarily Muslim.

West Pakistan is now just called Pakistan. East Pakistan is now Bangladesh.

for Students, Parents and Teachers

Now let's do Practice Exercise 5-3 (top). Choose printer friendly or online exercises. Printer friendly version requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader 5. Click HERE to obtain a free copy.


Next Page:  Tests (top)